Calling the midterm election results a "huge disappointment," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters Nov. 3 that union members hoped for a "better result."
It is clear, however, the number one issue concerning voters is the same for union families: the economy and jobs, he said.
According to exit polls of voters in swing congressional districts, 62 percent voted the way they did because of the economy. Health care reform (and the GOP's pledge to repeal it) ranked far behind at 18 percent.
Although the Republicans successfully clothed themselves as economic populists, 55 percent of voters told exit pollsters that they viewed the GOP unfavorably.
Trumka said, "America's voters are angry about the economy and lack of jobs and if Republicans, who now have a bigger role in government, don't do anything about it they will be kicked out in 2012."
Exit polls conducted by Hart Research showed a major disconnect between voters' feelings on the issues and how they voted. For example, majorities told pollsters they blame banks for the economic crisis with much smaller numbers blaming former President Bush and the smallest group blaming President Obama.
However, these same voters cast their ballots in the majority for Republicans, and believed the president's economic stimulus to create jobs was the same as the bank bailout.
But labor's get out the vote operation and voter education plan helped to overcome this disconnect. While all voters who identified the economy as their main issue favored the GOP by 9 points, among union voters they favored Democrats by a 42 point margin.
Trumka said their operation was effective "because members were contacted directly, helping them get through the fog created by untruthful ads paid for by unprecedented amounts of secret corporate cash."
Polls also showed voters who identified themselves as "moderates," preferred the Democrats by 14 points, but among union voters who called themselves "moderates" in these same districts, they went for Democrats by a 48 point margin.
These figures, Trumka said, are "encouraging because it shows the potential for the Republicans, as they move more and more to the right, to lose backing from people who consider themselves moderate."
The Hart poll also indicated that the details of the Republican Pledge to America were not what attracted most voters to GOP candidates. Large majorities, across the board, were opposed to privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age and cutting the unemployed off their benefits.
Even among non-union Republicans only 50 percent backed extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
"People know the economy isn't working, they're frustrated and angry and they are frustrated and angry not because government did too much but because it didn't do enough," Trumka said, reminding the Republicans that now they are in the leadership "you can't just say 'no.'"
Trumka said the voters were not repudiating the president's policies. President Obama, against difficult odds, has done a lot to fix the economic mess he inherited - a mess that is impossible to solve in just two years, he said.
Many conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats who had gone out of their way to oppose the president on health care reform and his economic stimulus program went down to defeat. Of the 34 Democratic House incumbents who voted "no" on health reform, half of them lost their seats.
The Wall Street Journal reporter asked Trumka if labor leaders were sorry they withheld support from Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a conservative "Blue Dog" Democrat.
"Absolutely not," the union leader said. "We didn't back her because she didn't stand with working men and women on key issues. We are re-tooling our approach to politics a bit and will back only candidates that support working men and women. Labor doesn't just automatically back Democrats or Republicans or any party over the other party, for that matter. If the politicians don't do what the people need - create jobs, jobs and more jobs, you'll see control of the Congress continue to swing back and forth every two years. The Republicans are going to have to get down to business, if not, they will be out."